Of all the slasher and horror movie franchises like “Scream,” “Saw,” “Evil Dead,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Friday the 13th” is maybe the simplest. All those other slashers have some gimmicks to set them apart from the pack, from “Nightmare on Elm Street’s” dream killer concept to “Scream’s” self-aware subversive streak. Most entries in the “Friday the 13th” franchise, on the other hand, are platonic ideals of the slasher: there’s a masked murderer, some sexy teens, and an abandoned campsite for everyone to run around in.
That said, it took awhile for “Friday the 13th” to become what everyone thinks of when they think “Friday the 13th.” The series started in earnest with the 1980 original, a clear attempt to copy the success of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” that nonetheless proved a box office success and helped establish that slasher films were here to stay in popular film. But the original movie, about a group of camp counselors knocked off one by one as they attempt to reopen the Crystal Lake camp, doesn’t feature Jason Voorhees as the killer: famously, it’s actually his mom Pamela (Betsy Palmer), enacting revenge for the death of her son due to the negligence of his old counselors.
But the film ended on a twist ending that teased Jason was still alive, and he came back — now a fully grown adult — in the quickly made 1981 sequel. The 3D third film in 1982 saw him ditch the burlap sack he wore in that film in favor of the bloody hockey mask that became his sequel, and the formula was fully established. Across nine other movies, Jason became one of the iconic horror slashers, engaging in all sorts of antics. He died twice. He got revived once. He fought Freddy Kruger. He (barely) took Manhattan. And, of course, he went to space. The franchise had its highs, and its lows, and many false endings, but after “Jason X,” it largely went away, followed by a single crossover movie and a failed 2009 reboot. For over a decade it lay dormant, before prequel series news surfaced last year, because Jason clearly doesn’t stay dead forever.
Most slasher franchises generally have at least one entry that’s acclaimed by critics, even if the sequels fail to live up to standards. “Friday the 13th” doesn’t really have that. From the very beginning, movies in the series were lucky to get mixed or tepid reviews from critics; savage pans were much more common. And it’s true that the series lacks a genuine great film that measures up to the likes of a genuine classic like the original “Halloween.” Still, the franchise has a grip on horror fans for a reason. At its simplest, the lean, mean nastiness of the franchise’s premise is a good vehicle for fun, creative kills. At the wackiest, there’s some camp value to the absurdity of a movie where Jason Voorhees goes to space. “Friday the 13th” has a lot of bad movies in it — but even the worst of the movies (okay, except for one) have some sort of appeal.
In honor of an October Friday the 13th this 2023, let’s revisit the good, the bad, and the horrible from one of horror’s most iconic slasher franchises. Here are all 12 of the “Friday the 13th” films, ranked from worst to best.
With editorial contributions by Kate Erbland.
12. “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
What’s Jason up to? He’s infamously nowhere near “A New Beginning,” the most divisive film in the “Friday the 13th” franchise. Danny Steinmann cut his movie-making teeth directing hardcore porn and that history shows in this seedy, boob-tastic slasher that swings between gory and goofy with a last act that makes next to no sense.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman), a counselor at the juvenile delinquent rehab Pinehurst Youth Development Center. She’s completely helpless in the most boring way, surviving on sheer luck and constantly falling down in the mud. Plus, she seems like a genuinely terrible counselor. These kids need help!
Best kill: After accidentally fondling his girlfriend Tina McCarthy (Debi Sue Voorhees — yes, that’s really the actress’ name!) without realizing she’s ALREADY DEAD, Eddie Kelso (John Robert Dizon) gets pinned to a tree and has his head crushed with a leather belt steadily tightened around his eyes. This killer might not be Jason, but, damn, the guy has got style!
Final verdict: As a matter of canon, “A New Beginning” is so far removed from Jason that it could almost be disqualified from ranking. But functionally speaking, this is a proper “Friday the 13th” flick. It centers on a hockey mask-wearing dude mowing down a bunch of people and, like the David Gordon Green “Halloween” reboot, “A New Beginning” has fun creating a world of whacky characters to prop up what could be a fun whodunit. Sadly, a mean-spirited use of nudity (some of this cast did not have a fun time), woefully lacking in-universe logic, and some shockingly slack tension plunge it to the bottom of our Crystal Lake ranking. —AF
11. “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” (1988)
What’s Jason up to? Battling 17-year-old Tina Shepard (Lar Park Lincoln), a telekinetic Carrie-type who accidentally killed her dad on Camp Crystal Lake years ago and has returned for an exposure therapy-driven visit doomed to end in… surprisingly little bloodshed?
Who’s the final girl/boy? Tina, of course! She unwittingly resurrects Jason and sets in motion the events that will put both her (and regrettably, the audience) through a hellish ordeal. Still, she’s a hell of a fighter and gives Jason one of his most unexpected deaths in the franchise.
Best kill: Even tucked snug in her sleeping bag, next-door camper Jane (Staci Greason) isn’t safe from the wrath of Jason. In a scene that will surely haunt you next time you dare to sleep in a tent, the killer drags his screaming victim — still in her bright yellow sleeping bag — across the forest floor before winding up and bashing her body into a tree with a single death blow.
Final verdict: “Jason vs. Carrie” is a fun enough concept, but “Part VII” is painfully forgettable. Telekinetic kills are often hard to pull off — the threats just don’t seem real — but they’re particularly difficult to enjoy when paired with the brute force of Jason. Plus, outside of the aforementioned sleeping bag debacle, the kills are screamingly mid. —AF
10. “Friday the 13th” (2009)
What’s Jason up to? Opposite “Supernatural” star Jared Padalecki and Danielle Panabaker, he’s retracing his steps through the first four “Friday” movies at Camp Crystal Lake — complete with machete, mask, and dock-breaking jump-scare — while holding Whitney (Amanda Righetti), a girl who looks like his mom, captive in his shack.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Whitney, though you’d be forgiven for not seeing that coming with Panabaker in play. Nothing if not all the way in on this reboot, Righetti is a surprisingly effective choice to play Jason’s final foe in the end — using the same trick Ginny pulled in “Part II” (number four on this ranking!) to get Jason’s back against some flesh-shredding farm equipment and deliver an undeniably strong performance.
Best kill: Everything that happens in the fake-out opening sequence is pretty rad, making you think you’re meeting the movie’s main cast when director Marcus Nispel is really just setting up Whitney before her plot-essential abduction. Weed aficionado Richie (Ben Feldman) gets the worst of it when his leg is caught in a bear trap and he’s stuck watching Jason charge up to him with a machete destined to stick right between his eyes.
Final verdict: This reboot is maybe better than most people give it credit for, but it’s still not the cream of the crop. The victims are generally unlikable and the action is more of an overly slick retread than a loving homage. Still, Jason is truly terrifying and considering this was his last time in theaters, it’s worth checking out if you’re a serious franchise fan. —AF
9. “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan” (1989)
What’s Jason up to? The eighth (!!) film in the franchise opens somewhat familiarly: with Jason (Kane Hodder) allegedly dead and stuck at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake, only to be (somehow!) revived by the dumb-dumb actions of some horny teens. When will these horny teens ever learn? Anyway, after “dead” Jason is again resurrected (this time, by underwater power lines), he opts to ditch Crystal Lake and hitch a ride on a party boat filled with high school seniors bound for Manhattan. If this all sounds insane to you – Crystal Lake connects to a waterway that flows into either the Hudson or the East River? – wait until you see the SS Lazarus, which looks like a fishing boat from the outside, a banquet hall from the inside, and is in possession of a power plant that rivals the Titanic. Absolutely none of this makes sense, and that’s to say nothing of the teens who populate it, all of whom Jason wants to kill because, well, Jason wants to kill. A disconcerting amount of time is spent on the boat – this should really be called “Jason Takes an Ill-Fated Weird Party Boat” – but, yes, eventually this doomed vessel (and Jason) arrive in the city that never sleeps.
Who’s the final girl/boy? It’s a two-fer: Rennie (Jensen Daggett) is deathly afraid of water (good luck getting over that) and her boyfriend Sean (Scott Reeves) has daddy issues involving his Ill-Fated Weird Party Boat captain dad. If these two – plus Rennie’s cute dog – can make it out of a “Friday the 13th” film, maybe anyone can?
Best kill: Personally, I’m partial to the kill that offs (well, for now) Jason in the final sequence: a massive flood of toxic waste that we’re meant to believe deluges the Manhattan sewers every single night. Seems like an environmental issue! If we’re talking actual Jason kills, his early mauling of wannabe rock star J.J. Jarrett (Saffron Henderson) with her own guitar is hilariously brutal.
Final verdict: Is it still possible to get a Jason film where he truly does take Manhattan? If not, can we re-name this joint? False advertising hurts us all. —KE
8. “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” (1993)
What’s Jason up to? He’s a ghost. “The Final Friday” (it would not be the final “Friday”) opens with Jason getting killed by a band of FBI agents ganging up on him. Seems like the killer is down for good, but in the morgue, the medical examiner is enticed to eat his heart, and gets possessed by Jason’s spirit. He then goes on his usual murder spree, but this time livened up by possessing the bodies of his victims.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Jessica (Kari Keegan), Jason’s niece. If you’re asking yourself “Wait, when did Jason get siblings,” don’t expect this film — which also posits a bizarre curse where Jason can only be fully killed by a blood relative — to answer your questions.
Best kill: The movie’s only good scene is the sequence where Jason kills a group of campers in the woods, which is notorious among fans as one of the gorier moments in the franchise. One girl gets skewered with a rod, before being gruesomely ripped in half when it gets pulled out.
Final verdict: “Jason Goes to Hell” deserves a sliver of credit for at least attempting something to distinguish itself from the rest of the franchise. But that doesn’t change the fact that the body-swapping and possession premise works way better on paper than it does in reality, where it proves baffling, confusing, ridiculous, and utterly boring. Other “Friday the 13th” movies succeed when they don’t take their stupidity too seriously; “Jason Goes to Hell” tries to tack on a mythology that makes no sense to the simple series, and ends up nearly unwatchable in the process. —WC
7. “Friday the 13th Part III” (1982)
What’s Jason up to? Wearing the damn hockey mask, finally! After “Part 2,” Jason has retreated to Higgins Haven, a farm near Crystal Lake to recover from his injuries. There, a group of teens are planning to party for the weekend, and Jason gets back to murdering them — picking up his iconic hockey get-up in the process.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Chris (Dana Kimmell), who had a run in with Jason as a younger child, and ends up fending him off when she’s reunited with him in her teen years. She’s decently fun, but doesn’t hold much of a candle in comparison to Ginny from the second movie.
Best kill: Jason squeezing Rick’s (Paul Kratka) head so hard one of his eyeballs pops out. Memorable because the eyeball flies out in 3D, and because Rick sucks.
Final verdict: Although “Part III” is a fairly run-of-the-mill “Friday the 13th” entry, it’s dragged down by two things. One, it’s frankly pretty boring. Two, the corny 3D effects, in which objects fly through the screen, make it simultaneously embarrassing and irritating to watch at home. —WC
6. “Freddy vs. Jason” (2003)
What’s Jason up to? Battling with another all-time great slasher. This “Nightmare on Elm Street” crossover event focuses on Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger as he revives Jason from hell in an attempt to do his bidding. But when the two horror protagonists come face to face, a rivalry forms as they compete to see who can get the most kills. Jason wins with a bullet, getting by far the most onscreen murders; remarkably, he still ends up serving as the hero of the film to a degree, due to being a smidge less evil than his scarred nemesis.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Lori (Monica Keene) and Will (Jason Ritter, in the worst performance of his career), two exes who reunite through the classic bonding exercise of evading two crazed serial killers from hell.
Best kill: Jason punctures the back of Trey (Jesse Hutch) with a machete, a common way for him to take someone out. But he follows that up by snapping Trey’s body in half by yanking the fold-out bed he’s in shut, in a truly gruesome moment.
Final verdict: Like a lot of crossovers, “Freddy vs. Jason” is a lot more fun in concept than it is in reality, with its uneven screentime for the leads making it contentious for fans. But still, seeing two iconic horror villains face off together is definitely a thrill for horror heads, and the final fight is sufficiently epic enough to make the rest of the movie’s slog worth sitting through. —WC
5. “Jason X” (2002)
What’s Jason up to? He’s in SPAAAAAAAAACE!! The franchise’s final early 2000s breath, “Jason X” starts with the US government cryogenically suspending Jason after attempts to execute him fail to put him down for good. 400 years later, he gets defrosted by a group of photogenic teens, and runs rampant on their spaceship looking for the kill.
Who’s the final girl/boy? More than one person survives this one, actually, although the closest to fit the bill is Rowan (Lexa Doig), a scientist who accidentally got frozen alongside Jason and ends up stuck in the future.
Best kill: Adrienne (Kristi Angus) gets her face shoved into a vat of liquid nitrogen by Jason, before he smashes her skull to pieces, in one of the cruelest but most memorable deaths in the entire franchise.
Final verdict: “Jason X” isn’t quite as deranged as its slasher-in-space premise promises. But it has a corny, campy charm that makes it one of the more palatable of the franchise’s later entries. —WC
4. “Friday the 13th Part II” (1981)
What’s Jason up to? The question you mean to ask is “What was Jason up to?” And the answer is, evidently, just hanging out in a shack in the woods with his mother’s severed head after NOT drowning in the original. (Just go with it!) Counselor-in-training campsite, Packanack Lodge, plays host to a brand-new slew of victims for Jason’s inaugural killing spree. It’s a reasonably strong first-stab at serial murdering for the sensitive young man — even if he does wear that stupid pillow case over his head.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Ginny (Amy Steel) is a straight-forward and occasionally snarky children’s psychology major who does wonders for the inside-out logic of “Part II.” She’s smart and resourceful, a real Laurie Strode type — even pretending to be Jason’s mother in a scene that rivals “Psycho” and “Beau Is Afraid” for the genre’s most twisted take on mommy issues. (“That’s a good boy…”)
Best kill: Rest in peace, Mark Jarvis (Tom McBride). One half of the cutest couple in “Friday the 13th” history, Mark gets a machete through the face before hurling down dozens of slippery steps in his wheelchair while it pours rain on his bloody corpse.
Final verdict: With some seriously memorable kills (bed spear!) and the introduction of Jason as the franchise’s biggest bad, “Part II” more than holds its own as one of the series’ better installments. You can thank it for setting up the rest of the iconic slasher franchise, while honoring its origins. God bless Betsy Palmer for that cameo. —AF
3. “Friday the 13th” (1980)
What’s Jason up to? He’s dead! Famously, the original “Friday the 13th” only features Jason Voorhees at the very end of the film, in a sequence where it’s kept ambiguous whether or not it’s a dream. Instead, his mom Pamela (Betsy Palmer) is the killer, waging war on the counselors of Crystal Lake in a misguided rampage of revenge against the teenagers of the past who let her son die.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Alice (Adrienne King), the first final girl of the series, and an aspiring artist who manages to decapitate the crazed mother before unfortunately meeting her end in the film’s sequel.
Best kill: A young Kevin Bacon gets brutally stabbed by a spear through his throat. Memorable for being bloody and violent, and, well, Kevin Bacon.
Final verdict: The original “Friday the 13th” isn’t representative of what the franchise would become, and it isn’t the classic other ’80s slashers are. But it’s better than most of the franchise, with some decent suspense and a villain who is more human, and in many ways much scarier, than the man who would take her place in many of the films to come. —WC
2. “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives” (1986)
What’s Jason up to? Getting back up to old business. After “A New Beginning” and its unsuccessful pivot, the makers of the franchise brought Jason back with Part VI, where Tommy attempts to dig up and destroy the killer’s body in order to prevent him from haunting his dreams. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and Tommy in fact manages to screw things up so badly that he unintentionally resurrects Jason, sending him back on his ever on-going murder spree.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Tommy again (here played by Thom Mathews), as well as Megan (Jennifer Cooke), the daughter of strict sheriff Garris (David Kagen). While Garris is convinced Tommy is behind the killings, Megan believes that Jason is back and helps the outcast find the killer, bringing snarky, spunky energy to the final girl role that proves refreshing after many films of flat, innocent ingenue types making it to the end.
Best kill: Garris’ death, in which the sheriff gets snapped in half, due to being one of the few kills in the franchise that genuinely makes you sad.
Final verdict: “Jason Lives” massively improves upon the franchise by showing that it’s in on the joke, with a streak of self-referential humor that acknowledges the silliness of the series that it still gleefully indulges in. Combined with good acting, likable characters, and strong plotting, and it’s one of the best films in the franchise. —WC
1. “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” (1984)
What’s Jason up to? Not actually ending his franchise. Although “The Final Chapter” was, obviously, meant to be the final film in the series, it ended up being just the end of the series’ first third. So its simple setup — where Jason emerges from the events of the last movie to target teens at a summer home in Crystal Lake — is certainly not the definitive end for the character, even if maybe it’s his best outing.
Who’s the final girl/boy? Trish (Kimberly Beck) and Tommy (Corey Feldman), two siblings who move to Crystal Lake, get invited in with the cool kids, and end up getting chased by Jason. As you do when you’re at Crystal Lake!
Best kill: Jason’s death; after some sibling teamwork, Trish and Tommy manage to get Jason on the floor, where Tommy strikes him with the machete and splits his head upon impact. He disturbingly doesn’t stop there, hacking at his body while Trish screams in terror. It sets up a cliffhanger ending about Tommy’s true nature and leads directly into “A New Beginning’s” pivot for the franchise.
Final verdict: “The Last Chapter” isn’t the most unique or gimmicky of the “Friday the 13th” movies, but it distinguishes itself by doing the fundamentals perfectly. The cast is mostly solid, well-acted, and likable, making it easy to root for them. Tom Savini from the first film came back for the special effects work, making for some of the franchise’s most memorable kills. Finally and simply put, it’s the most frightening, suspenseful, and well-made of any of the movies, the platonic ideal of what the “Friday the 13th” movies aim to be. —WC